KENNY SHIELS felt the full force of Derry City fans’ fury as the club bowed out of the FAI Cup after a frantic cup tie against Bohemians at Brandywell on Wednesday night.
The Derry manager’s decision-making and substitutions during the 3-1 loss to the Gypsies dominated social media posts as supporters aired their frustrations afterwards.
Shiels called ashore goalscorer and lone striker, Ally Roy on 64 minutes, immediately after he got Derry back into the game at 2-1 in the most contentious of those substitutions.
He offered the explanation that he had already handed in instructions to the fourth official - a move Shiels could easily have been reversed - and it was met by a chorus of jeers and boos from the home support.
Ben Fisk was replaced by Nicky Low at the same time which was again seen as a negative move at the stage when the team was beginning to gather some momentum.
Whether or not reversing those substitutions would have changed the course of the game can never be known and it must be said, Derry could easily have earned a replay.
Substitutes Adrian Delap and Shane McNamee both came so close to equalising, the former directing his close range effort straight at Shane Supple on 88 minutes.
And there was a blatant penalty overlooked by referee, Robert Harvey when Ian Morris diverted the ball away from the head of Gavin Peers with his hand.
The fact Derry met a resurgent Bohs side hitting peak form and on a seven match winning run, it was always going to a tough ask.
But with so much at stake the frustrations of the supporters is understandable, especially with the carrot of a home draw against holders Cork City for the winners.
The club’s most realistic route into Europe next season was riding on this result, the game billed as the most important of the entire campaign.
With the EA Sports Cup and its prizemoney of around £10,000 already in the bag three days previously, it offered Derry some solace for a dismal league campaign.
However, a first trophy in six years just papers over the cracks and with the club languishing in seventh place in the league it was imperative to keep the FAI Cup route to Europe intact.
European qualification is the benchmark for the club and although Shiels believes it’s still achievable by finishing in fifth spot, it’s highly unlikely with six games remaining.
Chairman, Philip O’Doherty, commenting earlier this season, claimed the football club was in danger of falling out of professional football altogether if outgoings continued to outstrip the income.
And with a minimum prizemoney of E240,000 on offer in the Europa League qualifiers, failure to qualify is considered disastrous if Derry are serious in their bid to compete with the league’s top teams and ultimately stay afloat.
When Dan Casey headed Bohemians in front on 43 minutes after Peers needlessly conceded a corner kick, he wheeled away in celebrations under the shadow of Ryan McBride’s mural on the Longtower Youth Club.
It was a striking image which reminded us of how the big centre half is missed as Shiels has struggled to find a solution to the glaring defensive problems this season. The Candy Stripes have conceded an average of almost two goals per game and boast the THIRD worst defence in the league!
When Dinny Corcoran netted the second goal in front of the 300 strong Bohemians support a comeback seemed unlikely to say the least.
However, it sparked Derry into action and Roy’s 63rd minute goal made it a proper cup tie. Both sides had chances after that before Corcoran punished the Candy Stripes on a counter attack to send Bohs through.
City had maintained high standards in domestic cup competitions this season, winning all six ties and scoring 26 goals - 12 of them against non-league Blarney United - in the process up until Wednesday night. But now it’s back to the club’s forgettable, most inconsistent of league campaigns starting with Shamrock Rovers on Saturday afternoon.
If Shiels does miraculously manage to steer Derry into Europe through the league positions it will arguably be his greatest achievement in his three year stint on Foyleside.
Currently in seventh place with six games remaining, City need to leapfrog both St Pat’s and Bohemians to clinch fifth spot. Currently that’s just a four point difference with a game in hand but it’ll need huge efforts to take anything from Rovers and Dundalk in their next two outings.
With games against Cork City and Pat’s to follow, it doesn’t get much easier. And that’s assuming Waterford are forbidden from competing in Europe should they finish third or fourth and also providing Dundalk or Cork win the FAI Cup!
Waterford are a new company formed by Lee Power in late 2016 and normally a club must be in existence for three years to compete in Europe unless UEFA allow special dispensation.
Should UEFA enforce that ruling, then hopefully the manager and players can lift themselves for a winning run to give themselves every chance and more importantly restore some pride in the shirt.